You Got the Power to Let Power Go?: ‘Arrested Development’ Rewind: ‘Missing Kitty’

I’ve mentioned before how easy it is to forget that the Bluths are part of the one percent. Michael is a CEO, George Sr. is a former CEO, and—as we learn in “Missing Kitty”—Lucille’s mother has the kind of inheritance that makes it worth lying to her children about her death.

Yet, the Bluths’ interests and dress are very middle class. Michael looks like he shops at Kohl’s and doesn’t have any hobbies. Gob is a magician and dresses the way Mystery from The Pickup Artist would if he were a normal douchebag instead of a spectacular one. Lindsay has some style, but you’d think someone with her low self-esteem and riches would pay for breast implants. Tobias is a cowardly, balding father-failure who wants to be an actor. No one is interested in polo, art collecting, yachting (Gob only uses the yacht as a sex den), or any other activity typically associated with the wealthy.

Despite this, there is a multitude of power being wielded by various members of the family, and power is an explicit theme in “Missing Kitty.” Psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven have a theory that there are six bases of power: positional (dependent on authority), referent (the ability to attract people and build loyalty—essentially charisma), expert (knowledge or skill-based), reward (the ability of the power wielder to bestow benefits), coercive (self-explanatory), and informational (knowledge is power). All are on display in this episode.

The central struggle is between Michael and his idiot secretary, Kitty. At the beginning of the episode, Kitty has been on sick leave with a “chest thing,” which turns out to be implants. She then wants to take an extra week off (vacation time, not sick leave) to go to spring break parties and redeem herself for an embarrassing showing on Girls With Low Self-Esteem (a Girls Gone Wild parody) the previous year. Not that she regrets flashing on camera—she simply wants more screen time this year. Unwilling to put up with this, Michael fires Kitty, who then claims he doesn’t have hiring and firing power.

George Sr. agrees with the claim, but it’s hard to tell if that’s true or if he just doesn’t want Kitty fired. It’s indicated that Kitty was George Sr.’s last mistress before his arrest, which points to the cliché power dynamic of the CEO sleeping with his secretary. This, however, gives Kitty informational power—she knows where the bodies are buried at the Bluth Company. Locked away in prison, unable to use his inexplicable charm on Kitty while Michael repeatedly fires her, George Sr. is completely stripped of his power. His position as CEO and President is truly usurped—Michael is now the face of the company, Kitty can star in Girls With Low Self-Esteem videos, and there’s nothing George Sr. can do to stop Kitty from getting her hands on damning evidence.

Prison power dynamics are notoriously based on coercion and the ability to attract followers. In last week’s episode, George Sr. sold Tobias to prison king White Power Bill for a pack of cigarettes (fair trade). This episode, in what is either a ploy to stave off a beating or a misguided attempt to help White Power Bill with some pro bono analrapy, Tobias convinces the neo-Nazi that he hates himself. Shocked by the sudden realization, WPB walks out of the cell and plunges to his death. Tobias becomes a hero, and the prisoners give him the nickname “Dorothy” because he kills the Wicked Witch—not because he’s more closeted than Marcus Bachmann. The new unofficial ruler of the prison, Tobias demands an audience with George Sr., who still holds power over him because he’s such a horrible, unloving father-in-law.

Tobias gains his power, however intentional or not, through psychological gamesmanship. This is not unlike what Gob tries to do with his spring break magic act. Ripping off his shirt to reveal four-of-diamonds painted nipples, he subtly suggests that all of the girls too drunk to realize he’s a fraudulent moron should take off their shirts too. The disgustingly sexist power dynamics of spring break are well-known—anyone with a camera and enough money to keep the margaritas flowing can get young girls to do almost anything. Gob’s magician act (somehow) adds a layer of supernatural thinking to this. Gob plays similar mind games with Michael, convincing him to let him make the yacht disappear in exchange for leaving George Michael alone.

As far as Lucille goes, she exercises extreme coercive power over Annyong. In this episode, he becomes her purse. He’s the absolute lowest on the power chain—it’s implied he doesn’t have a family, he barely speaks English, and he’s forced to work ten hour shifts at the banana stand. I wonder if this will be subverted at all in later seasons.

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